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Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation


As featured on: The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation

Bandannas have been popular presidential campaign items since at least the 1840s. While wealthy, urban gentlemen sported neatly folded linen or silk handkerchiefs, farmers and blue-collar workers preferred to carry colorful cotton bandannas like this one. They dangled them from the hip pockets of their overalls or the front pockets of their frock coats worn to church on Sunday.  At political parades and rallies, they would whip them out to twirl them by hand or swing them from atop a pole.  They also used them to decorate front porches and even flew them from buggy whips while traveling by horse and carriage.

This bright red bandanna was created by the National Kerchief Company for Theodore Roosevelt’s presidential campaign of 1912. Roosevelt had assumed the Presidency in 1901 after the tragic assassination of President William McKinley and he was re-elected in a landslide in 1904.  But he declared that he was not running for re-election in 1908 and, instead, backed his close friend and Secretary of War, William Howard Taft. Although Roosevelt’s backing helped Taft win the 1908 election, Taft became increasingly conservative and lacked Roosevelt’s energy, personal magnetism, and public support. Roosevelt’s own disenchantment with Taft finally convinced him to oppose him in the 1912 election. When Republican Party leaders decided to nominate Taft, Roosevelt organized his own party—the Progressive Party.

Banner_Hat_Detail, THF164064

The rich imagery on this bandanna was intended to be an emotional appeal to voters, reminding them of how much Roosevelt had endeared himself to them a decade ago.  First, the hat in the center of the bandanna symbolizes Roosevelt’s decision to run for President after a hiatus of four years, by proclaiming “My hat is in the ring.”  But this is not just any hat.  It is a slouch hat, a wide-brimmed felt hat that was commonly worn by the U.S. military since the Civil War and was still popular among cowboys and other Westerners.  One side of the brim was often pinned up, allowing wearers to sling a rifle over their shoulder.  This, in fact, was the type of hat that Roosevelt had made famous as he heroically led the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War in 1898.  

Banner_Initials_Detail, THF164064

Teddy Roosevelt’s initials printed around the outside of the hat were designed to look like a cattle brand, evoking Roosevelt’s ranching years in the Dakota Territory during the 1880s.  During that time, he developed a love for the West, for cowboy life, for vigorous exercise, and for nature—all passions he brought to the White House and instilled in the American public during his Presidency.

Banner_Border_Detail, THF164064

Around the outer edge of the bandanna appears the caricatured image of Roosevelt himself, immediately recognizable through the slouch hat, spectacles, and mustache.  The bandanna he is wearing was also a part of his Rough Rider uniform.  Bandannas, in fact, became an iconic part of every Rough Rider’s uniform, popularized by the Western cowboys who joined Roosevelt’s volunteer cavalry and then embraced by everyone—even the high-falutin’ Eastern college men and intellectuals who were Roosevelt’s friends.  Teddy Roosevelt himself had worn a blue bandanna with white polka dots with his custom-made khaki Rough Rider uniform.  This likely accounts for the polka-dot background on the bandanna’s outer edge. 

When Roosevelt joined the 1912 Presidential race, his run for re-election would prove to be the most impressive and exciting third party candidacy in American political history.  In the end, however, the Roosevelt-Taft split in Republican votes opened the door for Democrat Woodrow Wilson to win the election.

A bandanna full of symbols, in itself a symbol of Teddy Roosevelt—the Rough Rider, the hero, the cowboy, the everyman.  It is a wonderful example of an object whose symbolic references people understood at the time and whose playful design can still delight us today. 

Donna R. Braden, Curator of Public Life, enjoyed delving deeper into the symbolism behind her favorite Presidential campaign item in The Henry Ford’s collection. 



When Charles Sable, curator of decorative arts, was tasked with updating The Henry Ford's American glass collection, he accepted the challenge with enthusiasm. He envisioned creating an all-new gallery on the grounds of The Henry Ford, a place to exhibit portions of the institution's 10,000 glass artifacts currently in storage.

The gallery would also give him a strong talking point with Bruce and Ann Bachmann, private collectors of one of the most important Studio Glass collections. According to Sable, the Studio Glass Movement, which originated in the early 1960s, is recognized as a turning point in the history of glass as artists explored the qualities of of the medium in a studio environment.  Their goal was to create fine art, in place of craft or mass produced objects.


While other museums were interested in the Bachmann Collection, it was The Henry Ford that garnered their full attention. "The Bachmanns had very specific criteria for their collection," said Sable. "They were looking for an institution that was in an urban area, preferably in the Midwest where they live, had a large visitation, and was capable of exhibiting and maintaining the collection." 

After years of hard work, The Henry Ford recently added the Bachmann glass collection to its Archive of American Innovation. "As Bruce [Bachmann] told me, it was a good marriage," noted Sable of the donation. "He felt his collection would live here in perpetuity."


This month, the story of the Studio Glass Movement becomes a permanent exhibit in Henry Ford Museum with the opening of the Davidson-Gerson Modern Glass Gallery. "Our exhibit is a deep dive into how Studio Glass unfolded," said Sable. "It's the story of the combination of science and art that created a new and innovative chapter in the history of glass.  As a history museum we look at the impact of Studio Glass on everyday life – we will include a section on mass-produced glass influenced by Studio Glass, but sold by retailers such as Crate and Barrel, Pier 1 Imports and others." 

With donor support and fundraising, Sable's vision for an all-new glass gallery in Greenfield Village is also a reality. The Gallery of American Glass will open in the Liberty Craftworks District in spring 2017, giving thousands of visitors the opportunity to see the artistry and evolution of American glass through artifacts, digitized images and interactive displays.

Did You Know?
The Bruce and Ann Bachmann Studio Glass Collection numbers approximately 300 pieces, with representation of every artist of importance, including Paul Stankard, Harvey Littleton and Toots Zynsky. 

The all-new Gallery of American Glass is a careful redesign of the McDonald & Sons Machine Shop in Greenfield Village's Liberty Craftworks District. The Davidson-Gerson Modern Glass Gallery in Henry Ford Museum is located in the hall that once displayed the sliver and pewter collection.   

F-150 assembly inside Factory Tour

Every year, the first Friday in October brings Manufacturing Day, a time to celebrate the contribution that modern manufacturing makes to our lives. We see it not only in the countless products we use every day, but in the many jobs that manufacturing provides to American workers.

We thought it would be appropriate to mark the day with a look back at the most influential manufacturing innovation of the 20th century: Henry Ford’s moving assembly line. By combining interchangeable parts with the subdivision of labor and the movement of work to workers, Ford dramatically increased the speed with which his employees built Model T automobiles – reducing the car’s price and boosting sales as a result. The moving assembly line quickly spread to other automakers, and then to manufacturers of all types. Today, almost anything you can name is made on an assembly line, from helicopters to hamburgers.

Here, in honor of Manufacturing Day, is an Expert Set of 25 photos, documents and artifacts that tell the story of Henry Ford’s ground-breaking manufacturing technique.

Henry Ford: Assembly Line

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.


The Cornell-Liberty Safety Car – space age and safety conscious. (THF90867)

We have our share of unusual-looking automobiles in Henry Ford Museum. The Tucker, the Belly Tank Lakester and the Comuta-Car all turn heads. But there’s only one that looks like it just flew in from the Spacely Space Sprockets factory: the 1957 Cornell-Liberty Safety Car. Behind that endearingly odd exterior, though, was a serious five-year effort to save lives by making American cars safer.

Over the first half of the 20th century, many automakers focused their efforts on making cars more reliable, more comfortable and more powerful. Safety was a lesser concern. There were exceptions – laminated windshield glass, which didn’t break into sharp pieces, was in use by the late 1920s – but conventional wisdom held that safety didn’t sell. Customers wanted their cars to be faster, not safer.

By the 1950s, that attitude began to change. Cars were certainly faster by then, but they also had roads to accommodate the higher speeds. State-built turnpikes and Federally-funded Interstates had drivers zipping along at 75 miles per hour, and the booming postwar economy put more Americans behind the wheel each year. It’s little wonder that more drivers traveling at faster speeds led to a rise in accidents. By 1950, some 35,000 people were dying in auto accidents each year. Faculty members at Cornell University and officials at Liberty Mutual insurance took notice. In 1951, the two institutions teamed up to research a simple question: What causes injuries in automobile accidents?

THF103543Steering wheels and sharp edges could be lethal. (THF103543)

America’s highways became a laboratory, and police officers and emergency room doctors became research assistants. By carefully studying accident reports and medical records from around the country, the Cornell-Liberty team made several key discoveries. Car doors were a weak spot. Too often in an accident, a door was smashed open and one or more of the occupants was thrown from the vehicle. Furthermore, the team discovered that someone thrown from a car was more than twice as likely to receive serious injury. They learned that back seat passengers were three times safer than those in the front during a crash.

Researchers determined that the head was the most frequently injured part of the body, and that one in ten victims received a facial disfigurement. Contrary to popular belief at the time, the steering wheel provided no extra protection to the driver. Indeed, the wheel was often a cause of injury, being pushed into a driver’s chest during a crash. What’s more, control knobs, window frames and decorative ornaments often maimed accident victims.

THF90862Bucket seats cradle passengers while seat belts keep them secure. (THF90862)

The Cornell-Liberty team put its findings into practice by building a concept car that reduced or eliminated many of these dangers. Working from a 1956 Ford Fairlane, the team produced a car incorporating more than 60 protective features. In effect, they thought of their car like a giant egg carton designed to keep its fragile contents secure. The safety car’s accordion-style doors latched in three places, keeping them closed in a crash. Its bumper wrapped completely around the vehicle, protecting in low-speed accidents. Seat belts were prominent. Head restraints prevented whiplash injuries. The steering wheel and column were replaced by a pair of control handles. The dashboard, like other interior surfaces, was padded. Door handles were recessed. Unnecessary badges and baubles were removed.

THF90865The dashboard is uncluttered and the gauges are easy to read. (THF90865)

The best way to survive an accident is to avoid one, so the Cornell-Liberty team took driver visibility and distraction into account. The panoramic windshield – cleaned by five wipers – gave the driver an unobstructed view (as did the driver’s position, in the middle of the car rather than on the left side). Controls were kept to a minimum, and the oversized speedometer dial and gauges were placed directly below the driver’s sightline. The fuel gauge even had a “low level” indicator – something of a novelty in 1957. Indeed, the Cornell-Liberty team seemed to have anticipated every possible distraction; contemporary press reports noted that the offset front seats discouraged “necking while driving.”

Neither Cornell nor Liberty Mutual had any plans to manufacture or sell safety cars, of course. Instead, they hoped that their project would bring more attention to crash protection from the public and – more to the point – from automakers. A decade later, after some additional prodding from Ralph Nader and new government regulations, safety was an established priority in Detroit. And while the car you drive today may not have five windshield wipers or handlebar steering, it’s certainly got a bit of the 1957 Liberty-Cornell Safety Car inside.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford. 

The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation


American Style and Spirit: 130 Years of Fashions and Lives of an Entrepreneurial Family is a temporary exhibit opening in Henry Ford Museum on November 5. The exhibit is based on an extensive donation of garments and accessories, all used by the Roddis family of Marshfield, Wisconsin. These artifacts are exceptional in demonstrating how clothing tells us something about the person who wears it, while also illuminating broader stories of American life. We have just digitized a number of Roddis Collection pieces, including this 1952 day dress

To learn more, visit our Digital Collections to see the other pieces digitized thus far and watch for more to be added in the weeks leading up to the exhibit opening.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

American Style and Spirit, digital collections

The Couture Life

September 26, 2016 Archive Insight


Elizabeth Parke Firestone (1897–1990) was the wife of Harvey S. Firestone, Jr., son of the founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. As a well-heeled and fashion-conscious woman, she both traveled to and corresponded with many famous couture houses in Paris, including the
House of Dior

An inquiry from Dior
last year led to our digitization of many of the articles of Christian Dior clothing in our collection that belonged to Mrs. Firestone, but when we dug even further, we turned up over 370 Dior design drawings, mostly dating from the 1950s.  Many, like the 1955 “Fête a Trianon,” are intricately colored, and include handwritten notes and fabric swatches, giving potential customers a taste of their glamour. Visit our Digital Collections to peruse all of these Dior design drawings.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

Dior, digital collections

Making America Better

September 23, 2016 Think THF

The attendees are members of the Presidential Commission on the Development of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. From left, they are: Dr. Robert Wright, commission Chairman; Renee Amoore; Vicky Bailey; Andrew McLemore, Jr.; Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.; Senator Rick Santorum, R-Penn.; Michael Lomax; Congressman John Lewis, D-Ga.; Harold Skramstad, Jr.; Barbara Franco; Robert Wilkins; Senator Sam Brownback, R-Kan.; Cicely Tyson; Lerone Bennett, Jr.; Congressman John Larson, D-Conn.; Eric Sexton; Claudine Brown; Larry Small, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution; Currie Ballard. White House photo by Paul Morse. 

NMAAHC-logo_mobileWe celebrate a new national museum for the citizens of the United States – the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The idea of a national museum for African Americans started 100 years ago when black Civil War veterans announced their intentions in Washington D.C. to create a building on the Mall that would commemorate the deeds, struggles and contributions of Black Americans for the advancement of our nation. In 1929, the same year Henry Ford opened his museum complex in Dearborn, Michigan, President Herbert Hoover appointed a commission to study the idea of establishing an African American museum. However, the commission languished and was eventually dissolved 15 years later.

The Civil Wars veterans’ dream to commemorate the history and culture of African Americans was  revived by civil rights icon and U. S. Representative John Lewis, who knows about perseverance and leadership through his many key roles in the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement. For 15 years, Representative Lewis co-sponsored and reintroduced legislation annually to establish a national museum to preserve and present African American history and culture. The museum bill finally passed in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and, on December 16, 2003, President George W. Bush signed the National Museum of African American History and Culture Act authorizing the creation of the new Smithsonian Institution museum. John Lewis attended the presidential bill signing ceremony along with members of the African American Presidential Commission, including The Henry Ford’s President Emeritus Harold Skramstad.

In July 2005, Lonnie Bunch was appointed as the founding Executive Director to lead the establishment of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Mr. Bunch’s vision is that the stories, objects and lives presented in the museum will “make America better.” On September 24, 2016, the museum opened to the public with a dedication ceremony led by President Barack Obama. Our new national museum enables current and future generations to engage in their history at an institution destined to, as Mr. Bunch hopes, “make America better.”

Christian W. Overland is Executive Vice President of The Henry Ford.

Dress, circa 1835, once owned by author and illustrator Tasha Tudor. THF49064

Way back when, making clothing was a household enterprise. Many families raised the raw materials and did much of the labor-intensive spinning, weaving and hand-sewing to produce the clothing they needed. Textiles were precious, and most people had only a few garments. Today, clothing is a massive commercial operation — it’s all about us going off-site or online and searching out ready-to-wear from hundreds of factory-made items hanging on hundreds of racks or presented as seemingly endless choices on websites. Here are some of the tools of the garment trade that got us from in-house to in-store, all part of The Henry Ford Archive of American Innovation.

In the 1760s, rural families would spin wool (from sheep raised on-site) on a walking wheel inside the home, creating yarn eventually woven into cloth for making their own clothing.
Where can you see one? Walking Wheel, Daggett Farmhouse, Greenfield Village



The process of printing designs on textiles, shown above, using a cylinder made these fabrics much more affordable and fueled demand. By the 1830s, New England textile factories were producing a staggering 120 million yards of cotton prints each year.

Howe Sewing Machine, 1854-1857. THF154874

Sewing machines began to transform the process of sewing clothing during the late 1840s. While it might take 14 hours to sew a man’s dress shirt by hand, it would only take an hour by sewing machine.

R.S. Bailey’s New Combination System for Ladies and Children’s Waists, Basques, Sacques and Patterns, patented 1888.  THF123321

Commercial dress patterns made planning and cutting out a garment much easier. These patterns gave people a guide to making the correct cuts, sized from small child to adult. 

The power loom industrialized textile weaving during the early Industrial Revolution, automating the process of weaving and dramatically reducing the need for the skilled human hand. It took decades and a cast of innovators to perfect this technology.

This story originally ran in the June-December issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

The Henry Ford Magazine

imls-logoOne of the main components of The Henry Ford’s IMLS-funded grant is the treatment of electrical objects coming out of storage. This largely involves cleaning the objects to remove dust, dirt, and corrosion products. Even though this may sound mundane, we come across drastic visual changes as well as some really interesting types of corrosion and deterioration, both of which we find really exciting.

imls-draftingboardAn electrical drafting board during treatment (2016.0.1.28)

Conservation specialist Mallory Bower had a great object recently which demonstrates how much dust we are seeing settled on some of the objects. We’re lucky that most of the dust is not terribly greasy, and thus comes off of things like paper with relative ease. That said, it’s still eye-opening how much can accumulate, and it definitely shows how much better off these objects will be in enclosed storage.

Before and after treatment images of a recording & alarm gauge (2016.0.1.46)

The recording and alarm gauge pictured above underwent a great visual transformation after cleaning, which you can see in its before-and-after-treatment photos. As a bonus, we also have an image of the material that likely caused the fogging of the glass in the first place! There are several hard rubber components within this object, which give off sulfurous corrosion products over time. We can see evidence of these in the reaction between the copper alloys nearby the rubber as well as in the fogging of the glass. The picture below shows where a copper screw was corroding within a  rubber block – but that cylinder sticking up (see arrow) is all corrosion product, the metal was actually flush with the rubber surface. I saved this little cylinder of corrosion, in case we have the chance to do some testing in the future to determine its precise chemical composition.

Hard rubber in contact with copper alloys, causing corrosion which also fogged the glass (also 2016.0.1.46).

Hard rubber corrosion on part of an object – note the screw heads and the base of the post.

This is another example of an object with hard rubber corrosion. In the photo, you can see it ‘growing’ up from the metal of the screws and the post – look carefully for the screw heads on the inside edges of the circular indentation. We’re encountering quite a lot of this in our day to day work, and though it’s satisfying to remove, but definitely an interesting problem to think about as well.

There are absolutely more types of dirt and corrosion that we remove, these are just two of the most drastic in terms of appearance and the visual changes that happen to the object when it comes through conservation.

We will be back with further updates on the status of our project, so stay tuned.

Louise Stewart Beck is the IMLS Project Conservator at The Henry Ford.



If you know a bit about The Henry Ford, you probably know that one of our areas of expertise is automobile racing. Along with many artifacts, we hold vast amounts of archival materials on the topic, including the Dave Friedman Collection of hundreds of thousands of racing images, among other materials. We’ve just digitized a grouping of nearly 500 images from the 1968 American Road Race of Champions (ARRC) held at Riverside, California—bringing the total number of images we’ve digitized from this collection to over 20,000. 

Visit our Digital Collections to see this dramatic 1968 ARRC shot—or browse all the digitized images from the Dave Friedman Collection.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

Digital Collectiosn